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Media regulator bans China’s CGTN satellite channel from airing in UK

CGTN Europe, on Centre Stage. (David Fitzgerald/Web Summit via Sportsfile/WikiCommons)
February 04, 2021

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

The U.K. media regulator Ofcom on Thursday banned Chinese state media giant CGTN from broadcasting in the country, citing violations of its license conditions.

Ofcom announced the move in a statement on its website, saying its investigation had concluded that CGTN’s license was “wrongfully held” by Star China Media.

“We have decided it is appropriate to revoke the licence for CGTN to broadcast in the U.K.,” the agency said, adding that further investigations into impartiality and privacy complaints would be concluded soon.

“In the U.K., broadcasting laws … state that broadcast licensees must have control over the licensed service – including editorial oversight over the programs they show,” the statement said. “In addition, under these laws, license holders cannot be controlled by political bodies.”

It said a probe into the ownership structure of CGTN had found that Star China Media had no editorial responsibility for the satellite TV station’s output, while an alternative license-holder proposed by CGTN was rejected as unsuitable.

“We have been unable to grant an application to transfer the license to an entity called China Global Television Network Corporation (CGTNC) … because crucial information was missing from the application, and because … it is controlled by a body which is ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP),” Ofcom said.

It said that since September 2020, CGTN had repeatedly failed to respond to important questions, or to offer any update linked to its claim that the ownership issue would soon be resolved by corporate restructuring.

Almost immediately, China said it had lodged “stern representations” to the BBC over its coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, accusing the broadcaster of “politicizing” the pandemic and putting out “fake news.”

China’s foreign ministry said the BBC should “stop harboring ideological bias, stop smearing China, uphold professional ethics, and do objective, fair reporting on China.”

Broadcasting forced confessions

But a rights group that has campaigned against CGTN over its involvement in forced, televized “confessions” welcomed the news.

“CCP propaganda @CGTNOfficial is finally kicked out of #UK after years of @SafeguardDefend campaigns against its #forcedconfessions, breaches of privacy and the fact – that it is illegally broadcasting because it’s controlled by a political body,” the rights group Safeguard Defenders said via its Twitter account on Thursday.

The group said in an August 2020 report to the United Nations that state media organizations and Chinese state security police had produced dozens of televised forced “confessions” in the years since CCP general secretary Xi Jinping took power, often involving severe duress and torture.

Safeguard Defenders listed a total of 87 televised confessions between July 2013 and January 2020, many of which were the result of “extreme physical or emotional coercion.”

It said detainees were kept in conditions that create immense stress and feelings of fear, including months of solitary confinement, and were regularly sleep deprived under lights that are kept switched on 24 hours a day.

Some had undergone hours of interrogation during which they were subjected to beatings, electric batons, restraints, and denial of bathroom breaks.

As well as being broadcast on state TV in China, several “confessions” were broadcast on China’s overseas Communist Party TV channels, including CGTN/CCTV-9 in English and CCTV-4 in Chinese, or by the pro-Beijing Hong Kong media, Safeguard Defenders said.

Ofcom has already upheld a complaint from former British journalist and private investigator Peter Humphrey against CGTN for treating him unfairly and infringing his privacy when it filmed his “confession” to alleged violations of privacy.

China Global Television Network (CGTN) is a group of six international language channels launched by CCTV on Dec. 31, 2016, under the aegis of the Central Propaganda Department.

It was tasked with the enhancement of China’s international broadcasting capacities with disseminating the CCP’s guiding principles and policies, according to publicly available documents at the time.

In February 2020, the U.S. State Department designated five Chinese state media entities including CGTN “foreign missions,” meaning that they are considered to be the official representatives of a foreign government on U.S. soil.